Saturday, May 26, 2018

Belated Birthday to the Op Op

Oh. My. God. Can you believe the Opulent Opossum is nine years old already? My first two posts were on March 3, 2009, and here it is May of 2018. And look how far we’ve come! Obviously, since my blogging is diminished so much, there must not be much more to say. About anything!

I’ve covered it all!

. . . Not! I’m starting the tenth year of blogging, and the only problem now is, how do I find time to write about all the ideas in my head?

I’ve been busy doing things instead of writing and reflecting—and I suppose that’s a very good thing. Naturally, all the usual stuff continues. The house, the yard, the kitties. The elephant ears and the storm windows. You deserve an update!

Well, yes, there was the springtime landscape work.

AND we adopted a new kitty at the end of March! He’s from the Wild Thing people. He was trapped along with a clan of other cats in on a road in the south part of town called Hiview. They neutered him and ear-tipped him, thinking he’d be released with the rest of the feral/semi-ferals . . . but as he recovered, they realized he wasn’t like the others. He was nice. He liked people. He wanted attention. Somewhere in the process, the veterinarian who did his neutering surgery also fixed his cleft palate. (Didja know kitties can have cleft palates? Sure enough!)

The surgery didn’t quite “take.” It kept getting infected; stitches came out. Well, they tried—but he basically went back to the default condition. Here's a picture taken of him after his surgery. Try to imagine if this had healed:

The foster family called him “Macaroni,” I guess because he’s orange. We, of course, call him all sorts of variations of the name: Mac. Mr. Mac. Mackie. Mr. Mackie (“mmmm-kay?”) Mackadoodle. Mackie Doodle Dandy. Mack the Knife. Macaroon. . . . You get the idea!

One reason I was interested in adopting him was that Lois needed a friend with her on the first floor (elderly and deaf Patches lives on the second floor with us, and she really doesn’t deserve an immature little “friend” to surprise her as she walks blearily around the house). Another reason we wanted to adopt him was indeed his peculiarity: His cleft palate, combined with his grown-up status, meant that he wouldn’t be as readily “adoptable” as other kitties, especially during kitten season. And more—I remembered Miss Rhue, who used to rent the first floor from Grandma. She had had a cleft palate, and I liked the idea of her somewhere, somehow, maybe smiling down on a sweet kitty with the same congenital weirdness.

So . . . in addition to the extra care and attention called for in the process of adopting a new kitty into the household, I’ve been busy with some other doings, too. This year I’m the secretary of the Old Munichburg Association and have volunteered to be the “vendors coordinator” of this year’s Oktoberfest celebration (September 29 is coming up really fast!)

Also, I’ve been involved with a brilliant new arts organization here in Central Missouri, the Southside Philharmonic Orchestra. I was even persuaded to be the president of the board! I’m pretty sure that means that the SPO is a priority for me, so I’ve been trying to behave appropriately.

Meanwhile, Sue’s mom had some pretty gnarly surgery in early March, so we were in northern Ohio for a week.

The surgery was a success, but the recovery was lengthy (and continues). In fact, Sue returned to Ohio in mid-April in order to help her sister, who was simultaneously dealing with medical issues with her father-in-law (who recently passed away). Sue’s still in Ohio!

I’ve been batchin’ it. Goin’ through all the church nonsense, dealing with a health problem with Patches (yes, she has that old-cat kidney disease, it’s official), moving all the big potted plants outside, putting the elephant ears into the ground, helping put on an SPO concert, and a lot more stuff I won’t bore you with but which ate up entire weekends.

Amid all this, I took Mackie to the veterinarian that had seen him previously—who attempted to repair his cleft palate, etc. Even though she was not our usual veterinarian, I thought it was only fair for her to see him again for booster shots and whatever. And she surprised me by saying that Mackie is FIV+. What? What-the-what?? What does this mean?

Looking back, I realize I had only inquired whether or not he was feline leukemia positive, and didn’t ask about feline immunodeficiency status. Fortunately, FIV isn’t as communicable as feline leukemia, but still . . . Lois had been living with him almost a long as he’d been with us. They got along within only a few days of his arrival.

And the Wild Thing liaison had been under the impression that he wasn’t “strongly” FIV+; and if it was only a “weak” positive, it probably meant he’d only been exposed to the virus and didn’t carry it. But I did have him tested with my own vet, and sure enough—it’s a “strong” positive. He has the virus; they say his life will almost certainly be shortened to 3–5 years and end with an infection some sort, or, more likely, with cancer.

Anyway, at first, it seemed like it was no big deal. It seemed really unlikely he could transmit the virus to Lois. FIV is a lot like HIV—the virus is relatively fragile outside the body, and it pretty much needs to be injected into a recipient. Since Mackie was neutered and Lois spayed, he wasn’t going to try to inseminate Lois. We changed the water regularly, so it was very, very unlikely he’d pass it on through sharing a food or water bowl. He’d have to seriously bite her in order to give her the virus.

But within a week of learning this fact about Mack, I started noticing that he is . . . nippy. I think he just does it because he’s worked up, and he’s craving attention. But he does occasionally “strike” at my ankles as I walk around, as he weaves among my feet. And I knew that he and Lois played rather hard together—chasing, playing “gatekeeper,” and so on. Had he bitten her? Could he?

As far as I know, he hasn’t bitten her hard enough to break the skin. She’s fast! And she’s amply covered with fluff. But as he has gotten more comfortable with me, he has gotten more comfortable biting at my ankles and calves. Hard enough for me to actually say, “Ouch!”

So, as of May 21, Lois has moved up to the second floor. Sixty days after her last possible exposure to the virus, I can get her tested to see if she’s acquired it. So now Mackie’s alone on the first floor, and Patches lives in one of the second-floor bedrooms (I’m currently trying to get her and Lois to make some kind of peace). Three litter boxes to clean!

Lois’s move to the second floor meant that I had to take measures to Lois-proof our general living area. Hide/secure all the electrical cords; relocate anything she’s likely to destroy (feathers, vases); clean up and throw away the antique vase she did break . . . repair the speaker wire she did manage to sever, even though the wire was hidden under the stereo cabinet, I thought . . .

And this, my dear friends, has been my spring. Have I not been posting regularly? Well, this is why: A constant mayhem, one thing after another. And there you go.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

More on the Church Thing

The long coming-out story I posted recently, as you might recall, was inspired by a nice little process my church was going through. The ONA, or Open and Affirming process is a way that United Church of Christ (UCC) congregations can spend about a year looking at how they can do a better job “walking the walk,” extending “extravagant welcome” to everyone, no matter who they are or where they are on life’s path. The immediate core of ONA is about being welcoming to LGBT people.

The process, eventually and ideally, helps people get up-to-date with current knowledge about human sexuality and gender identification. Like, what does science say? What do mainstream psychologists say? And can it be that most Christians have been misinterpreting those passages from Leviticus, and the story of Sodom and Gomorrah? Is our faith strong enough to ask such questions, or is it so brittle that we cannot face ideas that conflict with those that have congealed in our minds for years?

Anyway . . . things have happened. The “pushback” occurred, and it occurred with breathtaking immediacy and inflexibility. The way things have happened, I think, is the single most damning aspect of the last few weeks. And I think this story should be told.

I realize my blog absolutely has not been intended to be an online journal—but the public aspect of it seems important. There are a lot of stories that may be written about this episode in the history of Jefferson City’s Central United Church of Christ. The historical aspect is especially compelling, since my own dad wrote most of the congregation’s sesquicentennial history not very long ago. And I have wondered, “Who will write the story of this crossroads? And will both sides be presented, or only one?”

I want to make sure that my side is presented, at least. And it’s odd, because I feel rather detached, while many of my friends at Central UCC are grieving and angry—so much that many of them will not step foot inside the church anymore.

So, what happened?

A week after our church had guest speaker John Pavlovitz for a weekend (March 16–18), the president of the church council presented three petitions to the council, signed by just enough members of the congregation, according to the congregation’s bylaws, to force votes on the issues. The petitions called for

(1) leaving the UCC denomination because it is too progressive socially (but not supplying any alternative direction, even though it is clear that certain right-wing members of the congregation want the church to become affiliated with the Evangelical and Reformed Association, a group of ex-UCC congregations which, at it root, is reactionary conservative, anti-LGBT, and anti-anything-progressive; seriously, they are okay with barring women from the ministry);
(2) immediately firing the senior pastor, listing a bewildering list of grievances, real and mistaken, all of which would better be managed through the church’s existing human resources committee; and
(3) firing the associate pastor, mainly based on theological issues that conservative and fundamentalist people have, which is the height of hubris, as both pastors have actual seminary/theological training, and the persons making the accusations are theological dilettantes.

It was a painful few weeks. These people had remained silent as the Open and Affirming group had made its glacial progress; we were moving slowly because we didn’t want to offend people. We were just starting the process of creating “small groups” so that we could talk more in-depth about the issues involved. And these people had quietly tolerated a Lenten reading group on John Pavlovitz’s book, “A Bigger Table,” which outlines a way for Christian churches to reclaim the Christ in their communities and become “the good guys” again.

But as it turned out, the Pavlovitz book had struck a nerve—indeed, one of the rightwing members of the congregation mailed to CUCC members a blog post from a Junction City, Kansas, Southern Baptist preacher, about how Pavlovitz is a “heretic.” (Why should we care much what a Southern Baptist preacher says?) And the movement toward establishing “small groups” for the purpose of moving the ONA process forward was the final straw: The social conservative faction needed to move fast, before we eroded support for, well, ignorance and misplaced bigotry.

And the way the petitions were disseminated and delivered was disturbing, in itself. First, the president of the Church Council convened small, limited, hand-picked members of the church for meetings to sign the petitions. One person, who was invited by accident, reported that, when he asked, “what’s this meeting about?” was told, “Well, let’s put it this way: How do you feel about ‘black lives matter’?” It was a litmus test: are you a rightwing person, or not?

The president of the Church Council supposedly should represent all members of the church, not a faction that wants to overthrow the Church Council and the minister. But that’s what he did.

And who are these people wanting to undermine the elected Church Council and the unanimously accepted pastor? Oh, my friends, you can imagine: It’s the Old Guard, the Elders, the people (men, mostly quite old men) who for thirty years grew accustomed to intimidating the previous pastor, who called the shots and always got their way.

How else did Central UCC manage to persist as a do-nothing, say-nothing, namby-pamby, “we welcome everyone but we don’t really welcome everyone” kind of church?

When I first joined the church, soon after we bought my grandma’s house, I asked the then-pastor, “So, it’s a UCC church—can Sue and I get married there?” And he hemmed and hawed (this was in our living room—the same room where Sue and I eventually got married) . . . “Well, there are certain members of the church who would be against it, and I have to respect them, you see.”

Oh, I saw, all right. The word that drifted through my mind was “invertebrate.”

But to be kind to him, he was nearing retirement. I’d probably cave in, too. He meant well. Do you hate someone because they’re weak? No. You feel pity.

So, continuing the story: more on the petitions and how they were delivered.

Apparently, the petitions were written such that anyone who signed it might have done so based on any one of the bucket of real and imagined problems with the minister and the UCC. They were apparently told that the petitions would not necessarily be presented. Instead, they were told, the problems would be presented, first, and if they were not resolved satisfactorily, then, and only then, would the petitions to leave UCC and fire the pastors be served. (It’s still a rotten, dastardly way of doing things: “Here is how we want you to change. And if you don’t do it, we’ll whack you with this petition.”)

But guess what? The grievances were never actually presented! Instead, the duplicitous president of the Church Council presented the petitions, then basically walked away! It’s like deploying nuclear weapons before even attempting diplomacy. (Wait, this is supposed to be a group of Christians—?)

So the council was forced to take action on the petitions—to schedule a vote.

On Thursday, March 29 (Maundy Thursday), the council had a special meeting after the evening’s service. I attended. When I learned that some of the petitioneers felt tricked into signing (they thought that the grievances would be discussed before any vote was forced), I could hardly wait to make my suggestion: Look, there’s still time to mend this rift! If petition-signers are not wanting to have a big showdown right now, why don’t they send a letter to the church office saying “take my name off the petition.” Wouldn’t that be a way to go into mediation and heal our wounds, rather than have an ugly vote? The council members agreed that this would be satisfactory: Yes, petition-signers could put in writing their wish to retract their signature, and if enough of them do so, the vote would not be forced. Splitting the congregation could be averted, if they wanted.

But NONE of them rescinded their signatures on the petition, and so it went to a vote. There was an “informational” meeting on April 15, between the two services, which was pretty ugly, as people basically stated their views and nobody apparently listened. The following week, April 22, was the vote.

I was amazed at how many people showed up! They came out of the woodwork. It looked like Christmas. The conservatives clearly got out the vote, bringing in kids who are technically still members, and other people who are still on the rolls but not active at all. They squelched all discussion. It was ugly—it’s always ugly when you prevent someone from having their say. And the votes, mostly, went the way they shouldn’t have: They didn’t succeed in seceding from the UCC denomination, but they did manage to fire both of our pastors.

Did I mention that there were some young couples that had been coming to our church, that suddenly quit attending when all this ugliness began? I saw all this because I was running the PowerPoint displays from the back of the sanctuary, which is where they tended to sit, too.

After the vote, I felt numb and floaty. It was hard to believe what had happened—how something so wonderful, and hopeful, had so quickly been snuffed out. And snuffed out by people who worked behind curtains, who plotted and schemed, who were too insecure and weak to bring their issues out in the open in a decent, fair way, but instead used slanderous lies to foment anger against those who are innocent.

I can see how my friends at church, who also had been hopeful and energized by the direction it was taking, were hurt and angered by this occurrence. Compared to me, many of them have a deeper relationship with the congregation: they were born in CUCC; they had kids in CUCC; their kids were confirmed in CUCC; they devoted time, energy, funds to CUCC. They believed they were a family in CUCC. But what kind of family takes a sudden, slanderous vote to expel other members? I can see why they’ve bailed out.

But me? It feels like just another example of Christians being assholes. When will they learn? My boots were made for walkin’, and I don’t take it personally (not like so many of my friends, who seriously believed they were part of a church family). I don’t have a long history of comradeship with these people, and I think I’ve always been skeptical of the depth of their so-called welcome. Actually, I’ve often thought of myself as a seeing-eye dog for the morally impaired. They actually need me more than I need them. They need the opportunity I present to them: please grow beyond your prejudices. All you have to do is open your eyes, and your hearts. You can do it, I know you can.

As Zora Neale Hurston said, “Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.” And as she also said: “Those that don’t got it, can’t show it. Those that got it, can’t hide it.”

After the infamous vote, several of us adjourned to the local Perkins restaurant to kind of decompress. As I sat there eating my salty Spinach and Mushroom Skillet, it seemed odd to think that I might not see these people again. As they reviewed the events of the last few weeks, I pondered my place in their distress. As far as I know, I’m the only “out” member of the congregation. Of course, I’m certainly not the only LGBT person known to people in the congregation. But I’m the only member who is comfortable “proclaiming” it. And I feel a certain . . . guilt, I suppose, about it.

In other words, a large part of the dissolution of the congregation—or at least the timing of it, the catalyst for it—was on account of me, of people like me. Is it worth it?

When I was initially contacted by the woman who initiated the ONA committee in our congregation, my immediate thought was that the church wasn’t ready for it. But then I thought, “if not now, when? And why not?” How could I not participate? I’m kinda the token gay. And, I knew, the ONA process is all about growing in understanding; it’s not something that requires a certain outcome. It’s like a conversation, a looooong conversation, with the result that we all become a little bit kinder and more welcoming to those who are different. What could go wrong?

I think that Central UCC (or whatever it becomes, once it’s left the UCC) is destined to failure, within five to ten years. The current members are old and aging, and they aren’t attracting new, younger folks. Why should they? Whatever do they have to offer anyone who is young and looking for a church, when there are plenty of other, more dynamic churches, churches that have coffee shops and pop music, that offer the same exact thing? And how are they substantially different from all the other “welcoming” but fundamentally regressive or societally stagnant churches that are out there? And therefore they will dwindle and expire; a nursing home for people who pine for the world of the 1950s.

Meanwhile . . . as of May 6, there are apparently some 80 people attending Central UCC services, while some 25–30 came to an informational meeting about a possible second Jefferson City UCC church—one that is ONA out of the starting gate, one that proclaims a socially progressive viewpoint, one that flies in the face of the bigotry and judgmentalism of most Christian churches today. The difference? Hope, heart, cheer, creativity, fairness, friendliness, focus. Hell: common decency.

It could be . . . like an oasis in a spiritual desert. Its time has come!

Meanwhile, I’m actually a little torn: Those people still need me. They still need their seeing-eye dog. They need someone to shine the way for them, to be the unconditional loving “look, it’s really quite easy: just relax” example. Hmm.

If I depart from the CUCC, am I being less loving and inclusive of them? Or am I simply saying, “Look, I know when I’m not wanted”? Do I betray myself if I stay?

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Violets Variation

Happy spring! For me, the preeminent flower of springtime is the violet: the ubiquitous "common violet" (Viola sororia) that grows in yards that are not poisoned by chemicals on a regular basis.

The taxonomy of these free and pretty little jewels has apparently given botanists fits. George Yatskievych, in Steyermark's Flora of Missouri vol. 3, summarizes "the tortuous nomenclatural history (and longest synonymy)" of this highly variable species. The species (as it's understood today, for now) differs in amount of hairiness, colors and color patterns on the petals, and lobing of leaves. Some apparently are not 100 percent wild; cultivated forms exist. I think that's what we have in our yard, mostly.

One reason, he says, for the variation and confusion might be because this species might hybridize with closely related violet species, but also that, because these violets also can create viable seeds from cleistogamous (non-opening, self-pollinating) flowers, an unusual specimen may easily reproduce its own weird genetic line in an area, filling the vicinity with its own non-sexually-reproduced offspring (basically clones of the parent plant).

I have kind of given up on trying to key out violets because of these differences. Every time I read technical and even nontechnical treatments of Missouri's violets, I get confused. It doesn't help that older references have them divided up into different species that newer references don't recognize.

But mostly, I simply hesitate to do the serious work in keying out the plants: picking and teasing and pulling apart the flowers, for instance. It pains me even to run the lawn mower over them. And they only last for a few months in the springtime.

So I will just enjoy them and let them be. They are a central reason I don't treat my lawn with weed killers.

Here's a little portfolio of the violets that grow in our yard. Enjoy!

First, some pictures of some "unusual" blue violets I transplanted them to Missouri from Sue's parents' yard in northern Ohio in May 2016, right after Mr. Ferber passed away. These rather pale violets are the most common type up there! Their yard is full of these violets. For all I know, they might be a different species. Anyway, the two little clumps I brought home have gotten pretty well established. I wonder if they're breeding with the other violets in our yard?

Next, the standard plain purple violets; most of the violets in our yard are these.

The next most common kind of violet in our yard are the "Confederate" violets, which Yatskievych calls Viola sororia f. priceana, "a form with grayish white corollas marked with violet or blue veins and sometimes also the lower petal spotted or mottled with purple." He says if you see any growing in a natural area, they are probably "plants that have escaped from cultivation rather than truly native occurrences."

Here is a typical purple and a Confederate together:

This year, I've noticed we seem to have a lot of variation in the "Confederate" violets. Yatskievych says, "Where such plants grow within natural populations of plants with bluish purple petals, individuals with intermediate corolla color patterns may also occur."

So here are some examples. First, some "regular" Confederates:

Then, there are some that look especially dark:

And here's one that seemed to have very pronounced dark veins:

On the other hand, here's one that's remarkably pale, but still with the "Confederate" patterning:

And I could only find a single pure white violet. Its stems and leaves are pure green, lacking the kind of reddish tinge the purple violets can have. And the petals are pure white. Sorry my photo's so lame. If it blooms again, I'll try to take a better picture. But you can get the idea even from this shitty out-of-focus photo.

(Really, I should be ashamed of myself for even posting this piece-of-crap photo...)

Finally, there is a different species of violet that occurs in our yard, and it's clearly separate. This one is Viola striata, the pale violet or cream violet. It has aerial stems (that have alternate leaves and flowers coming off of it) as opposed to having each leaf stem and each flower stem arising directly from the rhizome (like the other yard violets do). The flowers are narrower, and the stipules on the aerial stems are distinctly fringed with deep lobes or teeth (they look kind of comblike). The lower petal usually has dark purple veins (I guess that explains the species name, striata). Here are a couple views of it.